I’m glancing back and forth between this post, and my WIP. It is the long, long, LONG in process sequel to Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates. Just when I think I’m making progress, something inevitably gets in my way, and I set my writing down for far too long. Pfft. No more. Well, at least until the next crisis comes up.
I am reacquainting myself with the world I have created. The rules of how the technology works seems to be firm in my mind. The introduction of some paranormal, or magical elements seems to be developing nicely (although I think some more research on traditional magical beliefs of the time may still be in order. I want there to be at least a minimum amount of believability to exist. So now, I am examining my characters. Are they likeable? Are they horrible, easily hated? Are they even interesting?
There are some benefits as well as some drawbacks to stepping away from a writing project for a little while. It always makes me see what I have written in a slightly different way. I can sit here and say, “I really like that line,” or (which is more often the case) “Good lord, what were you thinking, Jason?” I seem to be saying that to myself quite a bit with this story.
The first story in this series was short. about 8,000 words or so. This story will be a tad longer. So far I am at a little over 16,000 words. There was not a lot of time to develop characters too much. So everyone in the story became a sort of archetype. Mercier was the wise older mentor; Bertrand was the naive young protegé; Drayton was the evil pirate; and Dette turned out to be a little more ‘Mary Sue’ than I would have liked.
I have a difficult time with characters. I either make them too good, and there is never any question as to whether they will succeed, or I make them too unlikable, so you actively want them to meet their maker. But, with the length of Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, that didn’t seem like too big of a problem. The shorter the story is, it seems to make more sense to distill the characters into certain archetypal roles.
When I came up with the idea for Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map, I knew that it would be a longer story. Knowing this, I set out to flesh out the characters that I had written about in the first story, and to expand the cast, at least a little bit, so that there would be more going on in the story.
My rules for my characters in longer projects are simple, but help me stay away from creating characters that I cannot stand:
- No perfection is allowed – I bent that rule beyond recognition in the first story. Dette was a little too ‘good’ for my taste. So I am trying to rectify that within this story, without making her unrecognizable to those who might have read the first story.
- Make characters that are unlikable – Now, that doesn’t mean I want a story full of detestable jerks, but even the good guys should have unlikable qualities. Dette, for example, is developing a strong disregard for authority as I go in the new story. So, some of her less ‘ethical’ actions throughout make sense.
- Give everyone their moment to shine – I tried to do this in the first story. The third person story telling style gives an author opportunities to explore the world they have created. I do not stick with just one character. I enjoy telling different parts of my stories through different points of view. It feels less stagnant that way.
- Expand existing characters – This was both easy and insanely difficult to do. In the first story there were five characters that played a significant role in the story. Two died by the end. I knew immediately that there would be many new characters this time. There were a couple of background characters that get their chance to shine this time around. and one of them is definitely not the most likeable character in the story (See #2).
- Every character should serve some sort of purpose – As a reader, this one has always felt like a no-brainer. Why create a character, bring them to life for several pages, and then do nothing more with the character. I have read far too many stories recently where a character is introduced, described in detail, then wanders off the page, never to be seen again through the rest of the book.
So that is my list; the short version, at least. If I don’t follow these rules, then my characters end up being too obnoxious to write for. Aside for a few small factual changes, I think I have avoided creating truly obnoxious characters.
Writers – What are your rules for characters while you are working on your projects? Or do you let your characters develop themselves as you write? I’d love to hear about your processes